Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

September 09, 2006

To the border and back

Today, I was due to speak in Williams, up near Lake of the Woods. It took three hours to get there, and I waltzed into the church where I was to speak on fruits just a couple of minutes before I was due to talk. I explained that I might be a little lispy since my tongue is still feeling the effects of yesterday's wasp sting.

After the talk, I asked the lady who was writing me a check if there was a route south through the Beltrami forest. The Beltrami forest is a blank spot on the map south of Warroad where there are few if any roads over an enormous area. Yes, she said, she goes through the forest on her way to Bemidji. She explained the route. It included thirty-three miles of gravel.

I filled on gas in Warroad, and headed south into the forest.

The Beltrami forest is legendary. I have heard stories of escaped convicts hiding there for years. It is boggy, almost impenetrable, and it has an air of eerieness about it that I wanted to investigate.

The forest did not disappoint. It alternated evergreen and tamarack forests with mile after mile of boggy swamp lands filled with willow. The only evidence of human habitation besides the road itself were the infrequent trails headed into the wilderness.

The pine seedlings above are growing beneath a stand of pine which was obviously planted, if the straight rows are any indication. In any case, it was fun to hear the roar of the wind through the needles. It sounded like somewhere in the mountain west.

The road was freshly graded. In fact, I was the first one to drive over the road since its most recent grading--until I met a pickup, and then we both became the second ones on the road. For a good deal of the thirty-three miles, there was water on both sides of the road. I got the feeling that the water went far in either direction and that the road was the only solid ground around.

Seeing this ditch and several others like it disappear into the distance led me to think that my fears were correct; I was in the northern Minnesota equivalent of the Everglades, or the Bayou in Louisiana.

After returning to tar roads at Four Towns, a dot on the map which consists of a convenience store and gas station, I headed east on Highway 89 to skim by Lower Red Lake. But before I neared the lake, I found this tower, and I hoped to finally get a bird's eye view of the surrounding scenery.

No such luck. Although the tower wasn't gated or locked, once I got to the second level I saw about three steps missing and I realized that the safety of the entire structure was anything but assured.

A few miles later, Lower Red Lake appeared on the horizon. It was quite a sight. Unlike most lakes, Red Lake is in the middle of boggy land. Much of it is surrounded not by beaches and trees, but by bogs and cattails. I didn't know if I would actually find a beach.

Much to my surprise, an actual beach appeared and I was able to go down and listen to the waves come in. It was something to see a lake which you couldn't see across this close to home. Equally amazing, I suppose, is that I have lived here 42 years before seeing this huge lake.

After departing the Red Lake Indian Reservation and Highway 89, I went back west towards Clearbrook on Clearwater County 5. I was surprised at how remote the highway was until the city of Clearbrook. In Clearbrook, I found that the late-afternoon sun nicely set off the somewhat bold architecture of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church.

September 08, 2006

Wasp got your tongue?

Got mine.

I was sipping coffee outside the gas station this afternoon in Fertile when, apparently, a wasp crawled into my coffee between sips. When I put the cup up to my mouth for the next sip, I got a wasp in my mouth. To defend itself, it stunk the side of my tongue.

Wow. That stung. I went across the street to the clinic to sit for a while in case I had an allergic reaction, but the tongue just got somewhat swollen. No indication of a deadly reaction. I started icing it and kept that up for the next seven hours, all through the Twins game which I watched at the home of my friends Grant and Cynthia. Any pause in the icing brought excruciating pain.

I hope this thing calms down enough so I can speak tomorrow. I am going to Williams, near Warroad, to speak to a master gardener gathering. I don't feel much like moving my mouth.

I have known people who have had their mouths radiated to rid them of cancer, and they had horrible pain. I am sure this is minor in comparison. But I do not suggest a wasp sting to the tongue as a way to spend one's evening.

September 06, 2006

History lesson

Arrived at the campus today to find that there was a traveling history exhibit parked outside the Student Center on the little-known internment of German-Americans in camps during World War II. I found out about the exhibit too late to bring my first class, but the second class spent 20 minutes there before the exhibit bus had to travel on to Warren.

In short, 15,000 German-Americans were rounded up and held in camp without charges during World War II. Most had immigrated within the previous twenty years. Many had children. If they had farms or businesses, they likely lost them while they were interred.

Some, in fact, were sent back to Germany in trade for America POWs. This was quite a shock for children who were born in this country. The internees and their children ended up in Nazi Germany, and had to stay there until the end of the war.

One of the camps was Fort Lincoln near Bismarck, ND. Photos of the camp show a place eerily similar to the Nazi concentration camps. Barbed wire, rows of barracks. Of course, nobody was shot, but one might have hoped we could have done better.

Some of the internees went crazy. There was nothing to do in the camps but sit. You couldn't answer charges against you because there were none.

I remember when I was in college going through some papers and finding letters from Germans who were sent to camps. One man was arrested by the FBI after a neighbor reported that he had shown "inordinate interest in train schedules through Jamestown." The implication was that he could be a Nazi spy.

Sen. Bill Langer finally got that man released, and Langer was a champion of German-American citizens interred during the war. He often visited Ellis Island where many of them were kept. Langer showed no such interest in the plight for Japanese-Americans in internment camps, that I could find, but he deserves credit for being probably the only American politician willing to stand up for the rights of interred German-Americans.

Of course, Langer was always championing lost causes, a proclivity which earned him the label as an irrelevant maverick and probably caused his visits to the camps to be ignored.

Only one of the students had heard of this internment previously. That student had actually visited one of the camps.

So, although we were scheduled to go over the Spanish conquest of Mexico today, I think the students learned more by going to the exhibit.

On the side of the bus were many placards going over the history of internment. Included was the text of the 5th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits imprisonment without charges amongst other things. One student read the 5th Amendment and, apparently confused by the archaic language, said to the student next to him, "What the hell. I don't get this one."

I stood back and watched as he and another student gradually figured out that what they were reading was the foundation of the phrase "plead the 5th."

"Cool!" he said, and moved on to the next placard.

September 05, 2006


One of the activities for the family reunion this weekend was to attend the Steam Thresher's Reunion at Rollag, fifty miles south of here. Rollag, for those of you unfamiliar, features upwards of one billion dollars worth of antique machinery, most of it in working condition. Here is a typical scene.

This old Rumely steam tractor has been a favorite of mine since my first trip to Rollag in 1974 as a fourth grader. I believe somewhere I have a picture of myself standing next to this very tractor. I love the name, and I think the proportions of the machine are perfect.

The tractors occupy many acres out in an open field. Deep in the woods are several large buildings, some containing old steam generators. One is from the Pabst Blue Ribbon brewery. What is impressive is the dignified quiet with which these steam engines produce enormous power--at least until their whistle goes off.

I just heard that there was a Pure Oil station on the corner in Fertile where we are now building a Veterans Memorial Park. That was the first I had heard of that brand. Days later, I stumble across this at the replica filling station in Rollag.

People of all sorts, by the tens of thousands, head to Rollag each labor day. The variety of activities is astounding. There is a steam train which circles the grounds. There are a half-dozen gigantic steam shovels digging. There is a complete sawmill run by steam, a print shop run by steam, a laundromat run by old gas engines, threshing, plowing, cultivating, haying--all done the old way, and all going on at once. Amazing.

There were so many people that, although we left home about ten minutes after the rest of the family, Lance and I never did find the other group in two hours at Rollag.

This kid is in with the miniature replica steam engines. In order to run these little machines, you have to complete a training course at Rollag University.

Compare the enthusiasm of the young whippersnapper at miniatureland with the disillusioned, bored, cynical teen in the picture above. That's what five years does to kids. This guy's reluctantly watching over one of the dozens of antique engines running, popping, whirring, clicking in smoky building designed for that purpose.

This little cutie is so ugly it is cute. Notice the tracks in the mud which left an island of grass where the tractor had been sitting--presumably for the entire weekend. I assume it didn't partake in the twice-daily parade of old machines.

September 04, 2006

Family reunion

Apologies to you regular readers, but I have been so busy with the Bergeson family reunion, much of which was held at my house, that I have had no time to write.

Aunt Olla was the unofficial matriarch of the proceedings. Of course, it wasn't five minutes after she arrived before she was into the beer.

Olla begged me not to report her beer drinking in the weblog, and she gave the usual protests about how she only drinks 1/3 of a beer at a time, but I told her it was my duty to report to the world what was going on so that they can pray for her with greater accuracy.

No Bergeson reunion is complete without music. Here Joe plays a jig with Ingela, a real live Swede married to Cousin David.

With over fifty-five people on hand, the garage of the house was pushed into service as a dining hall.